Refusing Believers To Become Members

“We encourage visitors who have already received Christ as their personal Savior to go to and become members of a church where they are needed more.” This message now appears on our Sunday worship bulletins. The phrase “a small church” has been changed to “a church where they are needed” because some people felt that the old phrase could give the impression that we’re bragging about our size.

Most churches that have implemented the house church put similar phrases on their Sunday worship bulletins to discourage people who are already believers from joining their churches. The reason for this is that when membership increases from believers coming to their churches, most of their efforts are spent taking care of these people, and less resources are available to reach nonbelievers, who typically need 2-3 years of concentrated outreach efforts before they become Christians. It’s also an indirect way of protesting “sheep-stealing”, which is prevalent among so-called “growing” churches.

Before you decide to refuse believers from joining your church, you need to give up hope of growing your church rapidly. Even if many people come to Christ through your church, that number may not be comparable to how many would come from other churches. Seoul Baptist baptizes an average of 3 to 4 people every week (150-200 people a year), but our net increase in Sunday worship attendance is a meager 30 people a year because the vast majority of the people who are baptized return to Korea or move to another state. I’ve heard that many churches in Korea see similar patterns.

Presently, churches can only grow rapidly by attracting members from other churches. Some pastors who implemented the house church couldn’t give up the goal of rapid growth and allowed people from other area churches to join them, even when that meant allowing house churches to meet every other week to accommodate them. House churches that meet every other week can’t properly be called house “churches”; they’re just small groups. Knowing how hard it is to sacrifice church growth, I respect pastors who insist that their churches grow solely through new converts to Christ.

Those of us who have given up the hope of rapid church growth have a different hope. Even if people who are saved through our church leave, we know that they will be gathered in heaven. People who became the first believers in their families, their family members who became Christians through their witness, and their children will thank us for opening a door for their salvation. God will also congratulate us for being faithful to His Great Commission and will reward us. We value this heavenly hope above any hopes of growing a large church on earth.

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